While it’s common to make tamales all year round, these delicious steamed corn husk-wrapped bundles are traditionally made and shared around the holidays. Everyone has their favourite filling — chicken, beef and pork are all popular. In our version, the pork shoulder filling is cooked low and slow in a flavourful sauce of dried chiles, aromatics and spices and then wrapped in a fluffy, tender masa dough. Enjoy these tamales on their own, or with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Cook’s Note: When it comes to the masa dough, the ratio of masa harina, lard and broth is very important for the lightest and most tender tamales. Whipping the lard first with of touch of baking powder also helps lighten the dough, rather than compressing the dough when it’s mixed by hand. We opted for dried chiles in this recipe instead of fresh because of their deep, earthy flavour. They still pack a punch (in both flavor and heat), but with a milder, raisin-like quality. While they’re the same chile, they also have different names depending on if they’re fresh or dried. For example, the ancho is actually a poblano, the pasilla is a chilaca, and the guajillo is a mirasol.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds black pepper and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and guajillo, ancho and pasilla chiles and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat and let sit until the chiles have softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender with the cumin, oregano, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds black pepper and puree until very smooth.
Pour the sauce back into the Dutch oven, then add the pork and bay leaves. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low to maintain a steady simmer and cook until the pork is very tender and the sauce is brick red, 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours.
Meanwhile, soak the corn husks in a bowl of hot water, using a plate to keep them submerged, until pliable, about 1 hour.
Discard the bay leaves from the pork, then shred the pork with 2 forks. Stir in the apple cider vinegar; taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper. Set aside to cool slightly.
Beat the lard, baking powder, chile powder and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth and light in texture, about 2 minutes. (Alternatively, use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.) Reduce the speed to low and add the masa harina. Once just incorporated, slowly add 2 1/2 cups of the chicken broth and mix until combined, 2 to 4 minutes. Test the dough by placing a 1/2-teaspoon dollop in a cup of cold water–it should float. If not, add the remaining 1/2 cup broth and mix until combined, about 2 minutes more. This will ensure that the masa dough is light and fluffy.
Drain the husks and pat dry. Starting 1/2 inch from the wide end of a husk, spread about 3 tablespoons of the masa dough down the length of the husk, leaving a 1-inch border on the sides. Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of the pork filling down the centre of the dough, then fold in the sides of the husk, wrapping the dough around the filling. Fold up the narrow end of the husk. Repeat with the remaining husks, dough and filling.
Set a steamer basket in a large pot filled with 1 to 2 inches of water. Arrange the tamales standing open-end up in the steamer. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover and steam until the dough is firm, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the steamer and cool slightly before unwrapping. Serve with lime wedges if desired.